After celebrating his 30th birthday with a long-awaited brace in a record-breaking 9-4 win over Hougang United, Faris Ramli is chomping at the bit to build on that as the Lion City Sailors host an in-form Geylang International side at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Sunday (4 September) evening. 

Having come off the bench to make assists in three straight Singapore Premier League (SPL) games, the Sailors attacker took advantage of his first start in a month against the Cheetahs to net his first brace since September 2020 when he was playing for Terengganu in the Malaysia Super League. 

“I was making an impact off the bench, but it always feels better to start, get on the scoresheet and help the team win games,” said Faris. “It was my birthday two days before the game (against Hougang) and everyone wanted me to score, so I have to thank them for helping me get the goals. 

“It hasn’t been an easy year, but now I’m slowly getting back into shape and into the flow of what I’m capable of. There was a lot of hard work and patience involved to get back to full fitness, which is slowly paying off. Now I just want to keep going in this manner, do even better and help the team achieve our goal of retaining our SPL title and be Singapore Cup champions.” 

It could well be a tricky task against the Eagles, who are in great form – winning seven and losing just once out of their last 11 matches. The impressive streak has propelled them into the top four with six games remaining, this after languishing in the bottom two for large parts of the season. 

Noor Ali’s men have also proven to be stubborn opponents for the Sailors in 2022, they beat Hariss Harun and company 1-0 at Our Tampines Hub – the first of the Sailors’ two defeats this season, with the other coming against Albirex Niigata (S) – then held the defending champions 1-1 at the same venue in July.

The Sailors secured a narrow 1-0 win over Geylang at Jalan Besar in May, but Faris is not taking anything for granted. 

Even so, he believes the team’s growing confidence – on the back of 26 goals scored in three straight wins under interim Head Coach Luka Lalić – can power them to another victory. 

“Geylang is not just solid at the back with Zaiful Nizam keeping the most clean sheets (eight) in the league, but they also have quality attackers. We cannot afford to let our guard down for sure,” said the 2019 SPL Player of the Year. 

“But we’re focusing on ourselves and how we can improve further. It’s our fourth week with Coach Luka and all I can say is training’s been very intense – which some of us required some adjusting to – but everyone is putting in a lot of effort. 

“The best part is that we’re all pushing each other and wanting to do better as a team. We’ve been adapting well to Coach Luka’s style of play and we’re going all out to deliver another three points for the fans.”

In a rejuvenated Faris, the Sailors have an invaluable weapon in their arsenal going into the business end of the season and the man is determined to drive even harder towards the finish line. 

“There were chronic issues that bothered me earlier this season, but now I’m feeling really good after a lot of rehab work with our strength and conditioning staff. 

“I knew I had to fight for my position especially with the quality players we have, so it’s great to have Coach Rodri who has been working with me and the other attackers like Maxime (Lestienne), Diego (Lopes), Song (Ui-young) and (Kim) Shin-wook to practice finishing and he has been very detailed,” said Faris, in reference to Rodrigo Costa, Head of Technical Training at the Sailors’ Academy, who has been brought in to bolster the first-team setup. 

In what has been an enthralling title race, the Sailors now lead the eight-team SPL standings by three points but Albirex could go level if they beat Balestier Khalsa on Friday (2 September). 

Faris called for his team to focus on their own tasks going into this final stretch, because he believes that single-mindedness will make a big difference. 

“It doesn’t matter which club plays first or second on a matchweek, that doesn’t affect us. We as a club – players and officials – have agreed on one thing, to focus on ourselves. 

“It may sound like a cliché, but it’s really about taking each game as it comes. Our aim is to win these last six games and we’re firmly driving towards that target.”